Assignment: Write a brief reflection on the in-class design exercise. What are the politics you identified in the artifact your group worked on as it currently exists? How was the experience of explicitly translating the viewpoint you chose into an object? Include photos of your designs.
Group: Kenneth Arnold, Yusuf Ahmad, Abigail Choe, Julie Ricard
We started the reflection by brainstorming the lexical field of words associated with amusement park: adventure, fun, fear, screaming, stress, harm, extreme, entertainment, alternative reality, isolation, remoteness, fence, lines, curves, friends, family, restrictions, centralized, security etc. We started with words close to the etymology of ‘amusement’ (from the French, “amuser”, to distract pleasantly / in a fun way), then identified that amusement parks were paradoxically associated with another range of emotions, more related to fear, screaming, stress and inflicted harm, which led us to think more holistically about the concept.
From the customer perspective, amusement parks are (supposed to be) an entertaining experience (as opposed to a consumption output oriented), shared with friends and families, triggering (extreme) emotions. It can also be described as a fenced and secured adventure: an alternative reality where you inflict yourself scares but knowing that you are actually safe. Security is actually at the core of the existence and survival of amusement parks. In that way, amusement parks intrinsically require a strong and centralized management system that is easily identifiable (for liability purposes) but also that can provide customers with the guarantee that their adventure will be harm-free. Moreover, the amusement park business has high costs of entry, as investments to build a park are tremendous and amortizing those costs can take years. More likely, the business model leans towards a small number of (very rich) investors, rather than a multitude of small investors, reinforcing centralization.
Perhaps the most enlightening part of this experience was realizing the authoritarian politics deeply embedded in the nature of today’s amusement parks. If we were to attempt to design within the boundaries of the amusement park as it presently exists, we would be perpetuating that political perspective broadly even if our design work were to locally embody other perspectives. Instead, identifying these hidden assumptions opened up our thinking to alternative approaches to achieve similar goals. For example:
- An overarching otherworldly “theme” or narrative is an allure of many of today’s amusement parks (especially Disney’s parks), but that benefit is achieved through experiences that are centrally designed, tightly controlled, and largely homogenous — essentially authoritarian. Could people enjoy temporarily living a different narrative while retaining their own freedom?
- Many park-goers enjoy the ability to experience extreme sensations and emotions but with essentially ensured safety. Today’s parks achieve this experience by spatially manipulating park-goers’ bodies and putting them in physical spaces where sight, sound, and other senses can be controlled–again, essentially authoritarian. Could people enjoy feeling unsafe-but-actually-safe using technologies that don’t require so much control over their bodies?
- The physical space of a park can evoke a sense of shared travel (to a distant park) and adventure (doing something together with others for a day). But in today’s parks, this space is centrally owned and managed. Could people experience this sense of shared travel and adventure in public spaces instead?
We understood individualism as optimizing for “freedom of action”; in particularly increasing opportunities for individual choice and self-reliance. This doesn’t mean mandating anti-social experiences – some may want to choose to have more social experiences. Instead, it implies removing constraints and enhancing both freedom from and freedom to do what an individual may choose to do.
We considered two approaches to redesigning an amusement park to enhance individual choice and self-reliance.
The first approach involved modifying existing rides. The social nature of amusement parks can constrain individuals. Some people enjoy thrills while others feel more scared, often leading members in a group to compromise by choosing specific types of rides or splitting up into smaller groups. In this kind of amusement park, each seat can be customized to have more cushion or a stronger safety belt. In addition, users have the option to wear an AR headset to alter the view to make the visual environment seem safer or more dangerous, depending on his or her personal preference.
Our second approach to (re)design examined how VR/AR/Mixed Reality might provide a remixable and customizable alternative to amusement parks. Current amusement parks require a lot of space and are usually located far away from residential areas. As a result, it is difficult for individuals with limited transportation or time to go to amusement parks. Moreover, physical parks have significant consequences for the environment (waste, energy needed, etc.). To minimize dependency on location and resources while keeping the thrill and adventure aspect, smaller, more modular amusement parks can be built in escape-the-room formats within urban spaces. This kind of park might not require more than a room, and could potentially actually be used in different spaces.
The focus of this approach would be a mixed reality platform that enables players to choose or design their desired theme, type of puzzles/challenges, and type and level of difficulty, with nearly any combination possible. Moreover, a player could choose to play alone or with others (in the same physical space or online players).
To be clear, the platform functions at two levels – the goggles would enable mixed reality adventure experiences – that apply similar principles of a theme park (fenced experience, safe, but can generate sense of thrill, adventure, of physical sensations), but further enable an individual to customize and create/design their experiences. The design/choice engine is somewhat inspired by Scratch and Glitch – platforms that lower the floors to creation, remixing of others ideas, and of playing with what others have built.
The platform also enables diverse kinds of participation: while many participants may choose to be those captive in the room, others might:
- Design the themed environments, from scratch or remixing and extending existing ones
- Design and implement new puzzles, again with the potential to remix
- Interact with other participants as characters in the themed story, or as “DMs” for some kinds of worlds – if the other participants so choose, of course!